Queen’s Scientista hosts discussion panel on women in STEMM

University District

AAC Academic Grievance Centre

Speakers shed light on issues in the male-dominated field

A crowd in the University Club listened to speakers at Saturday morning's event.
A crowd in the University Club listened to speakers at Saturday morning's event.
Credit: 
Felix Leclair

Queen’s Scientista hosted a discussion panel luncheon at the University Club on Feb. 10 to hear from five speakers about the experiences of women working in the STEMM field.

Queen’s Scientista is a campus chapter of the Scientista Foundation founded in 2015 and is aimed at empowering pre-professional women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

According to the group, only 24 per cent of people who work in STEMM are women. This striking disparity led the team to open the first Canadian chapter of the Scientista Foundation at Queen’s three years ago.

“I think Scientista really draws attention to the ‘leaky pipeline’ model, where we have so many women at the undergraduate level who are interested in science and passionate about it, but we seem to lose them along the way,” co-chair Sarah Zachariah told The Journal.

Of the five speakers on the panel this Saturday, three are professors at Queen’s. The discussion’s moderator asked questions about the representation they see in the field, their experiences as women in these disciplines and advice they had for young women interested in pursuing careers in STEMM.

One of the main points raised from the start was the issue of women being under-represented in STEMM isn’t only one of principle, but also a practical problem.

“There are only so many great people in the world, and there are only so many great ideas, so why would we systematically eliminate bright people?” Janet Dancey, a professor in the Department of Oncology, pointed out. 

Cathleen Crudden, a professor in the Chemistry Department, echoed this sentiment.

“The more diverse a team is, the better the outcomes. You basically have more ways of looking at a problem,” she said.

Confidence was also a major theme throughout the discussion. In particular, Crudden explained there seems to be a “confidence gap” in the workplace because women generally perceive themselves to be less qualified than their equally able male counterparts. This was something almost all of the panelists, even with their decorated accomplishments, could relate to.

President and CEO of Transformix Engineering Peng-Sang Cau said she felt this issue of lacking confidence perhaps correlated with the low rates of female STEMM employees. 

“It’s not that I don’t want to recruit women, don’t get me wrong. I can’t find women to recruit,” Cau said.

The speakers came to the consensus that women who struggle with feeling qualified need to “fake it until they make it.” They agreed that women need to have faith that when they make it to a seat at the table, it’s because they belong.

“You will find that you are bringing bright ideas that are valued, and will contribute to the success of whatever endeavour you choose,” Dancey said.

Following the panel discussion, Queen’s PhD Candidate Caitlin Miron took the podium as the keynote speaker. Miron is a recipient of the 2017 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation, for her research into cancer cells and the possibility of targeting their growth.

She discussed her research with the group, as well as her experience as a woman in the field. Even with her achievements, Miron said that she too struggles with confidence sometimes.

“Having to fake the confidence until you make it, that resonates with me,” she said.

According to Dancey, the landscape is starting to look more balanced, with a ratio of roughly half the amount of women to men in medical school classes.

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